On December 10 former Chechen commander Islam Canibekov was assassinated in the Umraniye district of Istanbul. According to the police, the weapon used in the assassination was an SP3 or SM4 “Silent Pistol,” which makes very minimal noise and was made especially for the KGB. Canibekov, who had been living in Istanbul for six years, was a businessman involved in the blanket business (Sabah, December 11). The Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted a Turkish news agency as saying that “a dispute over donations being collected in Turkey for Chechen separatists could have led to the murder of Canibekov” (RIA Novosti, December 11).
This suggestion fails to explain, however, how and why the execution was carried out in such a professional way with a weapon designed for the KGB. It is no secret that the Russian Special Forces have carried out “operations in other countries, including in Qatar in 2004, when two Russian intelligence agents were convicted for a car bombing that killed Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, a Chechen rebel leader who had taken refuge there” (RIA Novosti, December 11). Pro-Chechen web sites reported that the Russian intelligence service, FSB, was working actively in Turkey to find out who organized the donation activities, to direct a disinformation campaign against those who collected aid for the Chechens, and to spread rumors that the donations were not being transferred to the people in Chechnya (www.kavkaz.org.uk, August 29, 2006).
Salman Mashadov, who came from Chechnya, stated during the funeral ceremony that “Canibekov has done a great job for the Chechen cause. We will find who killed him. We will stop those who [try to] stop the Chechen struggle” (Yeni Safak, December 12).
Canibekov was reportedly on the Russian law enforcement agencies’ most wanted list. He was accused of killing 30 people and organizing three bomb plots. It was claimed that Canibekov was the number-two man in Chechen insurgent groups. Police sources think that the Chechen mafia or the Russian intelligence services could be behind this murder, but because Canibekov had not received any threats, involvement by the Chechen mafia may be less likely (Vatan, December 11).
Canibekov’s murder is especially alarming because it is not the first killing of former Chechen fighters in recent months. On September 6 Gazhi Edilsultanov, a former Chechen colonel, was gunned down in Istanbul reportedly during a dispute over financial aid being collected in Turkey for Chechen separatists. Edilsultanov was the head of the Chechen refugee camp in Istanbul (Zaman, September 17). It was reported that Edilsultanov had been wounded in Chechnya and came Turkey to receive medical treatment. Like Canibekov, he was also financially well off (www.iyibilgi.com, September 18; RIA Novosti, December 11).
It is interesting that the six people arrested for the Edilsultanov murder were Chechens and included two teenagers. The suspects confessed to killing Edilsultanov and stealing €50,000 (about $67,000). Two months later, the police found the gun believed to have been used in the murder along with €50,000 in the possession of one of the suspects (Taraf, November 11). Since the stolen money was found at a suspect’s home, one should assume that the killers were not ordinary thieves and that they did not steal the money to spend it. The murderers apparently thought that Edilsultanov was collecting money for the fighters in Chechnya but was not sending it to them; therefore, they presumably killed him and kept the money until they could send it to Chechnya. Perhaps, however, the story of killing Edilsultanov for the €50,000 was not true, and the suspects invented the money story to cover up the fact that the murder was committed by Russian intelligence.
It should be noted that these murders came in the year that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan had announced that all Chechens in Turkey should not be regarded as terrorists. He said that “it is true that there are people who fled from Chechnya to get away from the war in the Caucasus. Some of them may be wounded, but we cannot brand every wounded person as a terrorist” (www.rusya.ru, February 11).
No matter what the real reason behind the killings of the two former Chechen commanders is, the Chechen community in Turkey is uneasy. The Chechen war refugees, of which there were 1,500 to 2,000 in 2002 (www.mazumder.org, March 4, 2002), are particularly concerned that the Russian intelligence service is targeting their leaders to stop Chechen activities. The two recent murders created the perception among Turks as well as Chechens that Russian intelligence has been actively involved in killing key Chechen figures. It remains to be seen whether the Chechen murders will trigger a crisis between Turkey and Russia. The two murders have, at any rate, greatly heated the political climate.